In Which Spring is a Thing

Geese at Liberty Park

Photo by Lisa Moreira

And by Spring, of course I mean Summer (almost) but here in Utah the two seem to disappear into each other quickly.

In any case, the last I noticed cognitively, it was mid-December. The last I blogged it was latter-February. So, something has gone wrong here.

And that thing is: shame.

Oh, Lisa, you have tried so hard not to let this thing get to you, but then here you see it has been lurking in the corners for the past few months, without so much as letting you know.

It has been nearly a month since I opened my WIP. My second-draft, bringing-it-so-much-closer-to-awesome-this-time-around WIP. And the thing that has keeping it shut on my computer, more than my busy schedule or my attempting to spend down time with my husband…. is shame.

I had not realized it while it was happening, but shame was slowly overtaking me, creeping into my mind and heart ever-so-slowly that I didn’t realize it was there.

Because. Well, I’ve been in this game for a long time. And while I know that most first novels are ‘put it in a drawer and try again’ awful…. this isn’t really my first novel, and it is (as claimed by others, not just me!) NOT unsalvageably awful. I even have a plan to get it done and make it really good—or at least good enough to get a yes, so far as I can imagine, and that will have to do. I can get to the point where I admit that it is good ENOUGH.

So why the shame? Largely, I admit, it is because of the casual naysayers. I don’t tell most people in my life that I’m working on a novel, or that I have a completed draft, largely because this novel is SO much more complex than all of the other stories that I’ve worked on, and yet I want THIS one to be my debut, so I’ve put others on hold, and because of this, when I do say that I have a completed first draft of a novel, people assume that I’m close to getting it published.

Pssh. As if this is a thing you can just go and do. (Okay, if you’re going the Indie Route, sure, you can… but that has never been my particular dream).

So when people at work casually tease me with “So when can I buy your novel?” or “So when are you doing to publish that book?” I bristle and freeze.

And it makes me not want to work on the book. I’ve been reading, but not blogging, and ultimately, not writing. I’ve been letting other people’s dismissal of my dreams get to me. Which is utterly shameful.

So instead I take pictures of geese and ducks and their babies. Not a bad venture, by half, but…. not my dream. (Disclaimer: this is not actually a full-time venture)

And I’m not ready to let this dream go. So I’m hoping to rouse my spirits and get my focus back on. Yes, I’m busy, but I can’t ever get any writing done if I don’t make time for it. I can’t bring this fantastic adventure to life and into the minds and hearts of readers without finishing, finishing, finishing.

And in the meanwhile… perhaps a Tales From the Hollow Tree story. I have been desperately wanting to get back to writing shorts. Definitely, definitely no more hiding from my blog or WIP, though.

And if you have any tips for channeling a baddie when you are really a very nice person (you know, depending on who’s asking)… please send them along!

Let the Cat Die Already

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Statue of Bastet, Egyptian cat goddess via http://www.egyptpast.com

It’s halfway into the first week of NaNo, and even though I’m only half-participating this year (editing and overhauling my MS), I thought I’d do a blog post on writing. More specifically, on killing the cat.

I know, I know, everybody likes cats. LOL or Grumpy or big or small, everybody likes them. The Egyptians worshipped them, and all.

But guys, the cat must die.

Have you noticed how lately at the movies—especially the big, blockbuster type movies—that while you may enjoy it for the various jokes or shenanigans, overall the plot just leaves you kind of.. eh?

Like, you’ve seen that movie before, and you already know who’s going to come out on top of every scene before it happens?

I have to say, I have felt a lot of this. I went with my family to see Pacific Rim on opening night, and don’t get me wrong, I loved that movie. It is fun, fun, fun, especially if you’re a fan of Guillermo del Toro’s other work. (Which you should be!)

But we went to the midnight showing—or maybe 10 pm showing—and I was tired. For the first time since I was a kid, I fell asleep in the movie theater. But when I told my husband and my brother that, they laughed at me, because I fell asleep during the fight scenes.

Ridiculous, right? That’s where the action is!

Except…

I knew exactly how each of those battles was going to go as soon as they started. Sometimes I’d rouse myself mid-battle and nod and let myself close my eyes for another minute, because the fight was following the pattern I was expecting and so I didn’t really need to be paying attention. Somehow my subconscious knew that, and knew when I did need to pay attention—like looking just in time to see the Newton’s Cradle bit.

Everything new and wonderful about that movie was the jokes and the effects and the character back story that leaked out bit by bit. Which yes, I admit, still made for a fun movie. But the plot turns did not do anything like surprise me. This is the same reason why so many people were bored with Iron Man 3 and why it’s only been the recent, funny Thor commercials that have gotten you excited (that’s not just me, right?).

The culprit behind all of this is the widely-hailed book on screenwriting (that has been used to inspire lots of book-writing, too), Save the Cat, by  Blake Snyder. The book is subtitled “The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need,” and gives pointers on exactly (in the terms of screenwriting, down to the minute) plot points and downturns and… well, everything you need for a plot, needs to go.

And this is great. It really has helped a LOT of people write books. Or movies. Or whatever.

But it also means that people, whether consciously or not, are getting used to the pattern, and getting bored of it.

This is why things like The Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead are so popular right now. Because they subvert the expectations that people have—no one is safe, and no one is immune. Anyone could die. And that keeps readers on their toes.

Now, I don’t have stories where people are dying all of the time, and most stories don’t. But the principals are the same.

So the gist of this post? Okay, take advice where you want to. But don’t follow the advice to the letter if that’s not what’s going to work for your story. Yes, stories need high and low points. Yes, your character needs upswings and downswings. But sometimes something out of left field is what is really going to be remembered. Sometimes, you have to kill the cat.

Best Take-Away Thoughts from Storymakers 2013

Now that The Mr has in his wonderful tenacity fixed my laptop at least enough that it will read its battery again (this is a big win… especially considering we probably are nowhere near being able to afford a new laptop right now, what with my broken cellphone screen… ahem… yeah…) I can finally blog about some of the absolute best take-away thoughts I had from the Storymakers 2013 conference.

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J. Scott Savage (Farworld & Case File 13) and Tyler Whitesides (Janitors) gave a great class on the difference between an IDEA and a STORY. For example, you can have an idea of a fantastical world with a lot of different races with deep, significant histories and individual languages, and whatnot… but it’s not a story until you take a little creature called a Hobbit and give him a quest to throw a dangerous, sought-after ring into the far-off-across-lots-of-scary-lands fires that it was forged in.

STORY has to have five things: Characters, Goals, Obstacles, Consequences and some High Concept that sets it apart from other things.

sunnysky-umbrellas

High Concept was something I heard a lot over the conference, and while I’ve always thought it was important, it was pointed out that High Concept is more important now than ever before, because self-publishing is impacting national publishing’s influence. In other words, if you want it pubbed by the big 6, High Concept HAS TO BE THERE.

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John Brown (Servant of a Dark God) gave some fabulous advice on keeping your reader in-tune with suggestions you might never have thought of, even though they’re magnificently simple. In other words: keep things in order. If you’re describing someone or something, work from top to bottom, close to far, whatever, just stay in one direction. Don’t hop from one direction to another. If something is happening, let the reader see that, see your character’s internalization if necessary, and react. Don’t try and start with the reaction… it just gets things mixed up in the reader’s mind. Really simple things, but key to stop your reader from having those “wait, what?” moments.

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Keynote speaker Anne Perry (Charlotte & Thomas Pitt novels) gave a just beautiful speech about the fact that we all have had magical experiences, and as writers it is our duty to write them down, to reach out to human experience and say yes, I know what you’re experiencing and I’ve felt that way before. That’s a much less eloquent paraphrasing, but largely the same. She ended by saying “Have courage, and do it beautifully.”

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And lastly, Agent Michelle Witte (The Craptastic Guide to Pseudo-Swearinghad a fabulous class on Voice that I just loved. She showed some wonderful examples from books such as I Capture the Castle and The Unfinished Angel, and made me feel like I did a decent job describing Voice in my own Blue Bicycle ExperimentMy favorite thing that Witte said was “Be quietly distinct. You don’t have to shout. You don’t have to go overboard.” Life is in the details, after all. The trick is knowing that everyone sees those details a little differently than everyone else. Witte was good enough to fangirl about books with me a little bit after the lesson, too. Which was fun. :)

And that was my best take-away advice from Storymakers 13! It was a fantastic weekend, and I came home with a lot to think about. Hope this gave you a little sliver of that as well!

Writing in a Winter Wonderland and New at the Writer’s Dojo

winterwonderland

As with some of you, my world is still covered in snow. I have to admit, as a San Diego native, this is the most serious winter that I’ve ever seen. The two other winters I’ve spent in the Rocky Mountains were definitely mild by comparison. Have you seen the videos of people sliding due to frozen rain a few days ago? I had to deal with that. Maybe not so much as in the video, but enough that

Meanwhile, I am drafting again. I need a little bit of space from my fantasy manuscript so that I can process better what kind of changes need to be made (I know there are a lot of them! Fantasy is tough, guys!) So I’m retreating to my more comfortable realm of modern day paranormal whilst nursing the damaged ego all writers are used to when they see that the lovely thing they just finished is full of flaws.

So for the moment I’m cozying up to my Paranormal (which isn’t hard… I love it!) and trying to stay warm. In the meanwhile, I have some great news…

In case you haven’t heard, (because I haven’t told you… sorry for that…) there is some exciting news going on at the Writer’s Dojo! Here’s a look at it:

Treat every month like NaNoWriMo!

Beginning February 1st, 2013, the writer’s dojo returns to its roots and ushers in a new age of ninjawesomeness. Each month we will open three training rooms at the writer’s dojo website. A room for drafters (Writing Month, aka WriMo), a room for revisers (Revising Month, aka ReMo) and a room for those querying (Querying Month, aka QuMo).

We invite you to set your own goals, whether it’s to write a thousand words a day, revise ten pages a week, or submit twenty queries in a month, and register your goal in the appropriate training room.

There is also now a Google + group for the Dojo, so don’t be shy, join up! This is a great way to connect with others and to keep yourself motivated.

My first goal for February 2013 is to finish drafting my paranormal YA, OR to have written at least 10,000 words on it by the end of the month. I like to give myself two options so I feel like I’m achieving something no matter which I’ve hit. Does that make me a cheater? Oh well, you don’t have to play that way! :-P

The F Words. Fear. Of. Finishing.

I worry sometimes that I am afflicted with the F words. Not that one you’re thinking of. These: Fear of Finishing.

This is a first-timer’s fear, I know. Because this first time is, while maybe not the hardest (how would I know?), HARD. Because I’ve spent my whole life, just about, thinking about getting published and how I probably have the stuff to make it if I work at it.

As writers, though, even when we have a story that we love and something that we would like to share with the world, sometimes the prospect of telling a story right is (or SEEMS) inhibiting. What if we get it wrong?

The fact of the matter is, when it comes to writing an original story, we’re the only ones who have any chance of getting it RIGHT.

This seems kind of silly to say, but it’s true. It’s YOUR story. YOU have to write it. Or it won’t get written. Simple as that.

This is the thought that has been pushing me along lately. This is my book. I want it out in the world. I want ME out in the world as an author, instead of shut up in my comparatively small corner of the internet talking  to the spare passerby reader who likes to look up “Posts on Writing” on WordPress. (Though I really appreciate you readers!)

So when it comes to the Fear Of Finishing… kick it. Out. Don’t even let it sink in. This is something I’ve struggled with, sure, and probably most writers have at some point. But the professionals get it done, no matter what. And that’s my goal in this plan over all, isn’t it? To become a professional? You bet your petutti it is. How do you spell petutti anyhow?

P.S. See that photo up there? That was scribbled and taken in haste by yours truly.  Following the recent blogger-gets-sued train of thought… that we probably should have all been doing in the first place… over the next few weeks I’m going to attempt to swap photos I’ve used with less-than-clear permission and find some Creative Commons License stuff or take my own pics. It’s about time, Lisa. It’s about time, blogosphere.

Booking Through Thursday: One or Many?

Vampira2468 asks:

Series or Stand-alone?

I know this question is about reading books, whether you prefer reading a series or a stand-alone novel, but since I’ve answered that before (somewhere… don’t quote me) with a resounding “Well… both….” I’m going to instead look at this today from a writer’s point of view.

Forgive me if my answer stays more or less the same. Do I prefer writing a stand-alone novel or a series? Well… both.

If you look at my “Works” page, you can see that my two main WIPs at the moment (though really, I’m letting the one wait in line as I finish the other) are a stand-alone (Daughter) and what I at least hope might have the meat to pull off a series someday (Jethro). Both of them are very different writing experiences. One is an epic-fantasy-adventure that’s somewhere between The Princess Bride and Anastasia (figure that one out) and the other is about a bunch of high school kids in a small town who have to face the fact that they all have unexplained powers. One is focused very closely around one main character and a few of her closest connections, while the other technically has a main character, but also has an ensemble cast list as long as my arm.

I cannot tell you which one is more fun to write.

I really can’t. And I’m not going to make any comments about it being like picking between two children (though really, it is) but what I will say is that both stories have their own challenges and benefits, and I love that. So let’s talk about those challenges and benefits… let’s call them bonuses, though, because that’s what they really feel like.

Writing a Stand-Alone Novel (One or Two Main Characters)

 Challenges:

  • Typically you only have one (or two) perspectives to work with, even if you’re working in third-person. Unless of course you’re working in third-person omniscient, but that’s not often the case. This can make it hard to show the audience something without letting your character see it, which is sometimes vital.
  • Your character also has to be strong enough to carry a full-length novel. There’s really no half-ways-ing on this. Either you have someone who feels like a real person and is exciting or relatable, or you don’t have anything. Really. Because if your character doesn’t hold up, nothing else will. There’s no room for it to.
  • This is your one shot. Everything you want to say in this story, has to be said in this book. It’s a little bit different with the internet now, because we have the opportunity to do ebook tie-ins and things like that, but it doesn’t change the fact that if there was something you wanted to happen in this story and it didn’t make it there, it will never be there. The end.

Benefits:

  • The story has a clear-cut ending. This may not be the case with a series, at least with an ensemble cast like I’m planning. The story could well go on forever in an ensemble piece, but with one character, it’s easier to see where to say goodbye. (Clarification: this does not make it easier to actually SAY goodbye!)
  • You get to really fall in love with your characters. Not saying you can’t do this in a bigger cast (and obviously you can if your series is all based around one character, but that doesn’t seem to be the way I work), but fictional characters are often enigmatic and untrusting, and it takes time to peel away their layers. You get to do this if most of your time is spent with only one or two of them.

Writing a Series (Ensemble Cast)

Challenges:

  • Think making one character strong enough to carry a book was difficult? Now you have to have half a dozen (or more!) characters and they each have to be different enough to feel like different people. No use having a lot of characters if no one can tell them apart.
  • You also have to be very, very careful that your characters don’t fall into archetypes. Or if they do, that they have something about them that really makes the archetype worth it. Make sure there’s a twist. If the character just really needs to be an archetype, make sure that they feel organic. Avoid clichés as best as you can.
  • You have to make sure that your ending lets everything be said. Again, this is a little different now that we can offer side novellas and what not, but if you have half a dozen important characters, you have to make sure they each get their due and that their storyline ends by the time you say “The End.” This may not be an easy thing to balance out.

Benefits:

  • So. Many. Voices. Really that’s what’s fun about an ensemble cast and the time a series will give you to feature them. You get to experiment with so many different characters and write in their distinct voices. You don’t get “stuck” with one or two characters.
  • Time. Really a big benefit of a series is that you have room and time to get to a lot of things. In my case, a lot of different characters with personal storylines that play into the bigger story arch. You can even end a book halfway through one character’s personal struggle… it will bring some back to read the next book, to see how it turned out.

So… sorry to turn a reading question into a lecture about writing… but really, I’m not. I wonder if anybody else can think of benefits and challenges to the two?

Tuesday Talk: The Art of the Possible

- G.K. Chesterton

My title comes from a song in Evita, which calls “politics” the art of the possible. I think writing is really the art of the possible, though. Even if we like to slip into impossible once in a while. Because really, we deal in possibility. If _______ happens, what could possibly be the result?

What would it be like if an elven-year-old boy got a letter saying he was really a wizard? If a teenage girl saw her younger sister picked to fight to the death? If a boy turned into a wolf when the weather got cold?

Maybe these things aren’t likely to happen—but that’s not the point. The point is, in order for fiction to work, the reaction has to be real. The consequences have to ring true. Every character, every place, every society has to have an echo of truth to it, or it will not read as true. It will not hit home for the reader with the force that it’s supposed to. Science fiction has to be based on science. Fiction has to be based on fact.

Now, I’m not saying that all books have to be autobiographical, of course, but that people can tell the difference between something a writer understands, and something they’re just hoping will sound good. Someone who’s experienced pain and loss can tell if your character is really feeling pain and loss, or if you’re just hoping they’ll take your word for it. Someone who’s fallen head-over-heels in love will know if the connection between your main characters is there, or if you’re only hoping that it is.

There’s a reason why people say write what you know, and a reason why they say that writing is like opening a vein—people want stories that feel lived, because each of your readers have lived, and they want to feel like your book is another life they can slip into. Whether that new life is something familiar to them or something they can only dream about doesn’t really matter. It just has to feel possible.

Does your book offer that?